I was listening to “Warpath,” the first song off of Psychedelicasi’s new disc, Downsized, and something struck me. The first song off of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid is “War Pigs.” The first song of L 7’s Bricks Are Heavy is Wargasm.” The first song off Yoko Ono/lma’s Rising is “Warzone.” All great tracks. All great albums. What does this bode for Psychedelicasi? Pick up Downsized and find out for yourself.
For those of you not in the know, Psychedelicasi is a delightful anomaly mongst Milwaukee bands. In a town where countless bands find it difficult to work their way out of the wet paper bag that is power-pop (missing the great standards set by the Shoes by miles) or toil away in bland roots bands that offer no alternatives to their dull, forced replicas on (soon-to-be-kicked-off) major labels like Sister 7 (doesn’t the name sound oddly familiar to You?), Psychedelicasi definitely stands out.
Downsized doesn’t disappoint in the originality department. It moves seemlessly from the incendiary “Warpath” through heartfelt pain-of-love songs like “Never Go Back,” from the experimental “Absolutely Everything” to the instrumental (don’t worry, Maxwell, you don’t need to call your lawyers) “Ascension.” Plus, there’s a hidden track. Only you don’t have to fast-forward through minutes of silence to get to it. You only need to go to track 15 since the band helpfully tacked the silence after the song on track 14.
Owners of their 1994 EP will notice many differences between the two releases. I spoke with Paris, the band’s guitarist, about these changes. Our first CD was sorta funk-rock,” Paris admits. “But now it’s like ‘been there, done that.’ Our attitude is if you keep doing the same things you get [stale]. I think on the first CD we tried to please too many people. Songwriting took precedence on the new one. Me personally, I had radio more in my mind. Not that we cater to what’s on the radio but what does it take to have a song on the radio.”
Indeed, Downsized boasts a 15-song load with tight, economical structures. As far as radio play, the pairing down seems to have worked to a certain extent. “College is playing it to death. Lazer and New rock play it on Sunday nights on their local show. But they can’t play their shit regular. Four minute rock tunes have an easier time getting heard than a fifteen-minute jam,” claims Paris.
But that’s not all that went into the creation of Downsized. Personal drama always makes for a good record and Psychedelicasi had plenty of it surrounding the recording. “Our personal lives were in disarray,” says Paris. “I had just gotten out of a three-year relationship. ‘Never Go Back” is straight-up about her. I wrote that one Saturday morning. I was just thinking about how fucked-up everything was. I had my acoustic in my hand. I swear to God, man, as long as that song is – what? Four minutes? – is as long as it took to get that song written. She used to always bitch how I always never wrote songs about her. Songs have always been a closure for me. It’s gotta be like ‘It’s over!’ “Stitch” is about her too. I don’t want to get too into it, though, because then it’s crossing over the personal line about the kind of person that she was. But if you listen to the lyrics you’ll know what it’s about.”
I asked Paris why it is so hard for musicians to write about happiness. Even though the Pet Shop Boys and Ashford and Simpson have found ways to make happiness interesting, very few can get away with it. “Cause you end up sounding like the goddamn Beach Boys. It comes out sounding like some really happy, sappy shit.” Personally, I’ve found the Beach Boys takes on such potentially dorky subjects as vegetables, Johnny Carson and listening to music in your dentist’s office uncommonly beautiful. But music is all kinds of different things and apparently those things just aren’t Psychedelicasi’s bag.
Anyway, if relationships gone sour weren’t enough to fuel a CD’s energy, try inner-group turmoil for icing. “Well, the CD isn’t just about male-female turmoil.,” says Paris. “The CD is called Downsized. We went down from a five-man band to a four-man band. When we recorded the CD it was l three-man band; we had lost our drummer. We hired three different drummers to record the album. Now he’s back in the band. He bookended the sessions.”
Even a cursory listen to Downsized can convince one that Psychedelicasi has moved in a harder direction, easing up on the funk a bit. I asked Paris about some of the musical influences that went into Downsized’s production. “From a guitar player’s point of view, I was hanging around Chris Hanson and Greg Koch a lot. They’re two of my favorite guitar players in town. They’re professional, bluesy. They have a catalog of material that they can do. Those guys were like ‘What you do is cool. Very minor and Hendrix-y. But there’s other shit out there. T-Bone Walker, Allman Brothers, check some of that out.’ So I started waking with things in a major vein. But at that same time, I’ll listen to the Allman Brothers and then pop in Pantera. So it was a constant back and forth. As far as songwriting, a lot of Steely Dan. More melodic stuff. Cocteau Twins. After a gig, the last thing I wanna hear is fucking guitar. I put on the Cocteau Twins.”
Ultimately, Psychedelicasi cannot be pinned down to one particular style. They’re uniquely all over the map on Downsized. But you won’t catch the full Psychedelicasi until you see one of their hotter-than-hell live shows. You won’t know whether to shake your ass or bang your head. (Diagnosis: do both!!) It’s the rare Milwaukee band that can make that claim and Psychedelicasi will do it again and again at a club near you.
Editor’s Note: Psychedelicasi is long since defunct, Paris is now in a Milwaukee band called the Cocksmiths, and singer Saint is living in Minneapolis working on solo projects.